Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Review: The Napoleon of Notting Hill

Book Reviews | Posted by Shannon
Feb 15 2017

In a drear future – or, we may say, a drear past that never was – democracy in England died. England sank into a dull despotism. Its army and police almost vanished; its King was chosen out of alphabetical lists. “No one cared how: no one cared who. He was merely a universal secretary.”

In a system like this, anybody could become King. And anybody did.

Auberon Quin was a man who cared for only one thing: a joke. As a private citizen, he made a fool of himself for his own amusement. As a king, he still made a fool of himself, but he quickly branched out to making fools of other people, too. He instituted the Charter of the Cities, making each municipality of London a sovereign city and imposing on them an absurd glory. Each city had its own guard, its assigned colors and heraldry. Each had a Lord High Provost, who could not put a letter in a mail-box without five heralds proclaiming the fact with trumpets.

For ten years, the businessmen and bureaucrats endured the robes and trumpets and heralds. Then the farce was interrupted by a lunatic, who mistook the whole thing for a drama and wanted to turn it into an epic.

The Napoleon of Notting Hill was written by G. K. Chesterton and published in 1904. After a satiric prologue about the game Cheat the Prophet, the narrator sets the story “eighty years after the present date.” This adds up to 1984, and the colorless, moribund England of Notting Hill, languishing in a world made ever more uniform by imperialism, would have been dystopia to Chesterton. So this is another English novel presenting a dystopian 1984, but of quite another flavor.

Like all Chesterton novels, Notting Hill is written in omniscient style; the narrator is practically a character, and that character is G. K. Chesterton. A brief sample: “In the beginning of the twentieth century you could not see the ground for clever men. They were so common that a stupid man was quite exceptional, and when they found him, they followed him in crowds down the street and treasured him up and gave him some high post in the State.”

In humor, social criticism, spiritual opinions, and the well-used paradox, whole passages of Chesterton’s fiction are indistinguishable from his nonfiction. There’s a rambling quality to Notting Hill sometimes, and the long paragraphs of dialogue often serve Chesterton’s ideas more than his plot. Still, this book stands out as one of the most disciplined of Chesterton’s novels.

As obvious as Chesterton was in expressing his opinions through the pages of his novels, he also managed one of the most subtle interweaving of theme and plot that I have ever seen. The main theme of The Napoleon of Notting Hill is patriotism, but it takes until the very end of the book to see how the plot cross-examines the idea of loving your country. Notting Hill becomes a nation in microcosm, passing through in twenty years what takes real nations centuries, and new turns in the story present new arguments against patriotism. The slaughter at the end of the novel, uncharacteristic and startling, offers the most final argument.

Although a dystopian of a sort, and set far in the future of its writing, Notting Hill is an unusual specimen of speculative fiction. Neither technology nor magic has any real place in its world, which is the London of 1904 draped with medieval glory. The English government is altered in a few, somewhat metaphysical paragraphs in order to make the creation of Notting Hill possible. But there’s no menace to it, just plenty of room for absurdity. Big Brother is not listening.

notting hill 2Still, Notting Hill shares one great commonality with many better-known works of speculative fiction: It explores the present through the future. The glory of speculative fiction is that it is, more than other popular genres, about ideas, and Notting Hill is about nothing if not an idea.

The Napoleon of Notting Hill overflows with humor and depth. The characters are large as life and enjoyable, though they seem sometimes to be embodiments of different philosophies as much as people. The plot is very good – quick, unexpected, lively. “Two Voices” – the novel’s closing chapter, and its climax – is a masterpiece, the full meaning of the story bursting forth in an evocative and fascinating scene. And Chesterton not only considers the worth and meaning of patriotism, but gives voice to its heart, ringing in the words of Adam Wayne: “I have a city. Let it stand or fall.”

Review: Power Elements of Character Development

Writing | Posted by Shannon
Jan 11 2017

What is it that makes a sympathetic hero, a compelling villain, a persuasive and realistic character? I can sum it up for you in one golden word. But you really should read the book for yourself.

Power Elements of Character Development is the second book in the Power Elements of Fiction series, written by Rebecca LuElla Miller. Some time ago I read and reviewed the first book, Power Elements of Story Structure, and I knew then that I wanted to read this one, too. Characters are my favorite part of stories, and I am a writer. I knew I’d enjoy this book about writing characters.

Power Elements of Character Development is only 138 pages long, but it is divided into 45 chapters, plus an introduction and a conclusion. These chapters organize the book effectively, moving easily over many different facets of characters, their creation, and their overall place in fiction. Minor characters, dialogue, inner conflict, antagonists, character arcs, character death, and what qualities make characters memorable or compelling are all considered.

Most importantly of all, this book emphasizes that characters should drive the story rather than be driven by it, and their actions must, in turn, be driven by – and this is the golden word – motivation. It may be a beginner’s lesson that characters shouldn’t be passive, but even experienced writers can get lost in the blurred distinction between an active character and a reactive one. A character can be very active in his reactions, especially if what he’s reacting to involves live ammunition, but heroes should do more than just respond, and I appreciate how clearly this is established.

I found the emphasis on motivation invaluable, and how it must be present not only as the story’s end goal (what the character ultimately wants) but also as every scene’s purpose (what he is trying to do right now). The insight regarding motivation helps to focus plots and scenes and characters, a prevention and cure of writer’s block.

I enjoyed Power Elements of Character Development as a lucid, concise, broad-ranging review of the creation, use, and role of characters. Its points, especially about motivation, help me to focus and evaluate my own writing. Recommended to writers of all stripes.

 

I invite you to check out Power Elements of Character Development on Goodreads and Amazon, and I highly recommend you visit Becky Miller’s writing blog Rewrite, Reword, Rework.

Honors Villainy 312

Culture, Literature | Posted by Shannon
Nov 14 2016

(Because, coming off the election, we could all use a laugh.)

 

Good morning. Or bad morning – whichever is most applicable to your day, and as you all know, I don’t care.

First order of business, your tests. Observe, class, the newly empty seats. These belong to your former classmates, who have been dropped from the class. I will never tire of saying it: In the Higher University classroomof Super-Villainy, there are no second chances. Anyone not bright enough to pass the test, not competent enough to cheat and not be caught, not cunning enough to discern the one bribe I am willing to take – anyone who fails, fails. Because they were not superior enough to give orders, your ex-classmates have gone to the Lower College of Henchmen, where they will learn to take them.

Don’t smile. Next week, it could be you.

Second order of business, the recent pleasantness. You observed the riots surrounding the Superior Court of Inquisition, although as underclassmen it was not, of course, your privilege to participate. I am happy to tell you that justice was done. Total Expulsion was carried out, complete with a Demoralizing Monologue and several Witty Taunts. The honorable inquisitors did not even consider sending the criminal to the Spurious School of Mindless Minions.

The offense that brought about such a punishment is, of course, shocking, but I am going to explain it, because this is not a safe space, and I do not care about your triggers. The criminal, while preparing a treatise to earn the rating of a Malefic Magician –

(And don’t you see, class, that that is a clear sign that something was wrong? Who studies to become a Malefic Magician? It is really a matter of kidnapping or blackmailing or killing or ensorceling, all the good works of villainy) –

The criminal forgot the Infallible Law of Power, that teaches that Might Is Right and Will Prevails – forgot, I might add, the revered Doctrine of Self-Preservation and the sacred Imperative of Self-Interest – and presented to the Higher University the following statistics:

  • In 97.8% of all stories, the villain loses; in 70.5% of stories, the villain dies; in 83% of stories where the villain survives, it is only to die at a later date; in 99% of stories, the villain has an unhappy ending; to this we add, parenthetically but with great annoyance, that in 44% of stories, the villain is reputed to cry, and not the crocodile tears or boiling tears of pure rage that are the only acceptable kinds of crying.

 

All this is bad enough. But what disqualified the criminal from being even a Mindless Minion was the conclusion of the treatise. This put forward the thought – and let this be a lesson that you should always think twice before you think – that the universe works against us and beats us, and that is how Clotilde Skuld came to be banished to the Outer Regions of Perpetual Back-breaking, Soul-Destroying Work, Where Your Face Will Never Be Clean Again.

Skuld’s treatise is specious on its face. How can the villain lose in 97.8% of stories and be unhappy in 99%? Clearly, if the villain won, then the villain would be happy. These numbers are self-contradictory and worthless. Furthermore, how can anyone fail to consider the issue of authorial bias? The authors of these stories are nervous creatures, afflicted with too little exercise, too little sunlight, and too much caffeine, and write out of their timid heart’s desire to escape our coming dominion.

Take heart, students! The universe is blacker than they paint it. Time is a tyrant, Death conquers all. Entropy is on our side. Nature knows no law but Power – and neither do we. We fight without the self-imposed limits of the heroes. Our will to win is absolute, our cunning knows no qualms, our ambitions are unfettered. Our fashion sense is manifestly superior. We will prevail.

That is our time. Tomorrow night is the game against the Knights, and I encourage you to cheat whenever you can get away with it and commit wanton fouls against the enemy’s star players. Remember, it’s not how you play the game; it’s whether you win or lose.

And as I have taught you, you will win. Or else.

A Notable Lack

Culture, Literature, Writing | Posted by Shannon
Oct 31 2016

A notable lack in speculative fiction, and one that cuts across the divide between Christian and secular, is that of genuine, fully-realized religion. There may be religious belief and religious feeling; in Christian speculative fiction, there usually is. There may be scraps of religion – vague expressions of faith, a benevolent priest, a fanatic, a cross or a stray invocation of the gods. But genuine religion – religion that possesses a structure, doctrines, holidays, customs, stories and rules, and all the physical artifacts from temples to jewelry? That is rare.

This lack is hardly crippling. Great speculative fiction may exist without practical religion and even be deeply spiritual. Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia exhibit little of religion as it is practiced in actual life and possess spiritual depths rarely matched. Complete religion isn’t necessary. But its scarcity in our novels is a loss.

You may ask, Why Snoopy? And I answer: The other images Google gave me were too ugly.

To gain an idea of the loss, let us consider Halloween, because ’tis the season. There are surely people in this great nation whose favorite holiday is Halloween, and I frankly worry about these people. At best, it’s a half-holiday. There is a version of Halloween for children, and a version for adults, but no version for everyone. As a popular holiday, it makes no pretense of religion or meaning; it has no songs and most Halloween stories could be told without Halloween and probably would be.

And out of even this poor half-holiday you could dig a tale that teaches us who we are. The origin of Halloween is taken to be Samhain, the Celtic holiday that marked the journey of the dead into the otherworld. Ghosts were near on Samhain, too near for anyone’s comfort. The inhuman, both demons and fairies, were also believed to be abroad with power, perhaps because the journey from this world to the next suggested a general weakening of boundaries. A spiritual anarchy hangs about the whole day, and to the extent that there was real belief there must have been real fear.

The Catholic Church later established All Saints Day and All Souls Day, days that commemorate the dead without fear of the dead, or horror of death. It’s long been said – very plausibly, though I admit I all-saints-daydon’t know on what evidence – that the Catholic Church did this to replace Samhain. And Samhain did fade away, leaving only vestiges of customs and superstition where powerful belief once ruled. Yet All Saints Day and All Souls Day never replaced it. These are just days on the church calendar, occasionally observed but never celebrated.

Much can be gleaned from the history of Halloween – the revolution of a civilization changing from one religion to another, humanity’s elemental horror of the dead who do not stay properly dead, the dread of the inhuman, the evolution and mixing of beliefs and practices. It is strange that, although many people believe the saints are happy in heaven and few think ghosts travel on Halloween, Halloween has so much greater a presence than All Saints Day. An empty holiday with concrete practices has more power than a holy day with abstract joy, and we see how instinctively humanity demands, and perhaps even needs, physical expression of spiritual things.

What can be illustrated through a holiday – from the history of a civilization to religious beliefs to fundamental human nature – is extraordinary. Holidays, and all the expressions of a whole and genuine religion, offer a wide and rich opportunity to speculative fiction authors. I don’t demand that they take it, but – well, would you consider it?

Fame is Fugacious

Literature, Writing | Posted by Shannon
Sep 26 2016

Not long ago, I took a vocabulary quiz. In the process of it, I learned two new words, avulse and fugaciousfugacious. It struck me as unfortunate that I would have to look long and hard for an opportunity to use avulse, and I would probably never get a chance to use fugacious at all. They’re just too obscure.

We stand heir to a vast accumulated vocabulary, with words that range from everyday to rarefied to absolutely arcane. This has spawned one of those perpetual debates among writers and editors and agents, and in which readers have their own well-deserved opinions. The never-resolved question is: What words should writers use? What words are too old, too different, too long?

At the heart of the debate is a tension between two competing, legitimate principles. The first principle is that the ultimate aim of writing is to be understood. Far more than self-expression (because then why not just keep it to yourself?), writing is communication. You are not communicating if people cannot understand you.

The second principle is that writing cannot be reduced to the lowest common denominator. Some words are more apt than others, and sometimes the long word or the old word is the one that sings. Although writers should not, on the risk of being obnoxious, consider it their duty to expand their readers’ vocabularies, neither have they failed if they send their readers to the Dictionary.

The tension between these two principles is worked out book by book, sentence by sentence, word by word. There is no universal rule to lay down. I think it worth stating, however, that the thing really to be avoided is not the unknown word but the odd-duck word. These are the words that sound awkward or weird or (perhaps worst of all) funny. These are the words that jolt readers out of a text, and that is something all writers strive devoutly never to do.

Words often drop out of use because language evolves and culture changes, and they don’t fit anymore. Consider the wordoxblood,” a shade of red that is not actually what you would imagine ox blood to be. Ox blood was once used as a pigment in creating dyes and paints. This would explain why oxblood is a dark color, and not the bright red we normally associate with blood: It was originally associated with ox blood that had dried or been mixed with other ingredients or soaked into materials such as wood or leather.

In our own day, when these associations have been lost, oxblood has lost much of its power. Even people who can define the word do not possess the images that first inspired it. Writers develop literary crushes on words, but it is good to consider whether those words, transplanted from the soil where they first grew, will truly thrive.

With most obscure words, the trouble is not dead cultural associations but simply the sound. Some are so unusual, so odd, that your eyes trip over the syllables. Others don’t sound like what they mean. This is the trouble with fugacious. It means fleeting, but to modern ears it only sounds silly, and I would sound silly, too, if I tried to used it (“Fame is fugacious”). Possibly, though, I could play it for humor: “My lunch hour was fugacious.”

By contrast, I have more hope for avulse (“to pull off or tear away forcibly“) because similar, well-known words like repulse and convulse also have vaguely violent meanings. Encountering an unknown word does not, in itself, jar readers out of a book. But the unknown word must flow, must give an impression in tune with its actual meaning. This is why you will not go wrong with words like invidious and deleterious: They sound as bad as they are.

There is a time, Solomon wrote, for everything, and probably a place for every word. No word should be summarily rejected, or uncritically accepted. In a living language, words fade away and sometimes ought to, but it takes a long time for a word to fade beyond all use.

Review: The Story of the Irish Race: A Popular History

Book Reviews, History | Posted by Shannon
Aug 15 2016

There are many stereotypes of the Irish, and no doubt most of have some antecedent in reality: the policeman with a brogue, the corrupt politician of Tammany Hall, the talker, the fighter, the drunk, the priest. Behind all these figures, familiar and sometimes even comic, shimmers a history of tragedy and of glory. Often this history is neglected. To remedy this neglect, Seumas MacManus wrote The Story of the Irish Race: A Popular History (first published in 1921, with later editions covering until the end of the 1930s).

On the first page of this book, the author calls it a “crude compendium” and “a rough and ready sketch.” Perhaps so, but at 725 pages and a historical span of nearly three thousand years, it is quite a sketch.

To his credit, the author makes no pretensions to neutrality. He declares on the first page that the purpose of this rough and ready sketch is to provide a history of Ireland for her people and exiles (and descendants of those exiles – of whom I am one). This is a book of the Irish, by the Irish, and for the Irish.

A more rigorous book might have been written, as the author acknowledges at the outset. The opening chapters consist greatly of speculation about the historical basis of Irish legends, especially those of the Tuatha De Danann. The later chapters are strong and unequivocal in their anti-British viewpoint. They are not, however, hateful. (And reading the accounts of Britain’s conquest and keeping of Ireland – including atrocities of murder, rape, and torture – and the ruthless self-interest with which Great Britain ruled the Irish, and the oppressive laws with which it sought to disenfranchise and degrade an entire people … well, I could see why many of the Irish have hated the English. I felt I could come to hate them myself.*)

The book’s clear Irish viewpoint, once recognized, is valuable in understanding the Irish viewpoint. There is also a kind of richness that flows from this viewpoint, from reading of Ireland from someone who loves Ireland. The author’s pleasure in the lore and songs and poetry of Ireland, his love of it through every defeat and misfortune, his delight in its glories – all of this shines through the pages.

The author may well be biased (and his expressed opinions are, of course, not infallible). Yet this is not propaganda. The author means to provide history. He recounts events that reflect poorly on the Irish and provides support for anti-English or pro-Irish statements from sources that have no bias in favor of Ireland (and perhaps some in favor of England).

This book is flavored with deep emotion, sharpened with strong opinions. It is also filled with apt quotations, powerful details, and colorful sketches of great characters. The author shows great skill in what he chooses to relate and how, and wholly avoids the dryness that comes of too much attention to statistics and too little attention to the individual stories that make up the great arc of history.

The Story of the Irish Race is not a definitive history of Ireland, but probably no single book could be. Whatever its limits, it is written with respect for the truth and love for Ireland. It reprises Irish history too little known in America and reflects the Irish spirit that has so doggedly resisted domination down through the centuries.

And it quotes poetry in the footnotes and sometimes in the text itself. What more could you want?

 

*In case the tone of this statement is misunderstood, let me clarify: I don’t hate the English.

Prism Tours: Dark Minds

Literature | Posted by Shannon
Jul 26 2016

On Tour with Prism Book Tours.

Welcome to the Release Celebration for

Dark Minds

By Michelle Diener

 

Dark Minds is book three in the Class 5 Series. Michelle is sharing about the Class 5 world today. If you missed Michelle’s release-day message, go read it HERE, if you missed about the rise of the genre, go check that out HERE, and don’t forget to check out the entire series and enter the giveaway below…

Dark Deeds
(Class 5 #3)
by Michelle Diener
Adult Sci-Fi
ebook, 331 Pages
July 22nd 2016

 

The mind is the most powerful weapon of all . . .

 

Imogen Peters knows she’s a pawn. She’s been abducted from Earth, held prisoner, and abducted again. So when she gets a chance at freedom, she takes it with both hands, not realizing that doing so will turn her from pawn to kingmaker.

 

Captain Camlar Kalor expected to meet an Earth woman on his current mission, he just thought he’d be meeting her on Larga Ways, under the protection of his Battle Center colleague. Instead, he and Imogen are thrown together as prisoners in the hold of a Class 5 battleship. When he works out she’s not the woman who sparked his mission, but another abductee, Cam realizes his investigation just got a lot more complicated, and the nations of the United Council just took a step closer to war.

 

Imogen’s out of her depth in this crazy mind game playing out all around her, and she begins to understand her actions will have a massive impact on all the players. But she’s good at mind games. She’s been playing them since she was abducted. Guess they should have left her minding her own business back on Earth…

GoodreadsAmazon

Creating the World of the Class 5 Series

 

A few days ago, DARK MINDS, the third and final book in my Class 5 series was released. I have had a lot of readers express disappointment that this is the final book. They love the world and they want to keep exploring it.

 

Nothing is sweeter to me than hearing that the world I’ve created in my head is a place people want to linger. I am working on a new series, though, and hope everyone loves the new one just as much.

 

When I started the Class 5 series, it wasn’t really with a series in mind. The main character in DARK HORSE, the first book in the series, Rose, came to me so strongly, with such a compelling story, I set aside the historical I was working on and jumped right in to write it. It was only near the end of DARK HORSE that I realized there was still a lot of the story left to tell, and the Class 5 series was born.

 

I know the fact that Rose and the world she found herself in was so clear in my head and so vivid in my imagination helped me create such a strong world for the series as a whole. I had invented way more in my head than ended up on the page in DARK HORSE, and that gave me scope to include the greater world of the Class 5 series or explore things I only touched on in DARK HORSE in the other two novels.

 

The part of the universe where my heroines Rose, Fiona and Imogen find themselves is run by a coalition of five races. I only go into detail about the culture of the Grih, the race my human heroines have the most affinity for, but I do lightly touch on aspects of the other four’s cultures. It was fun creating the worlds and customs, the look and feel of the places my heroines are forced to go, and I like to think that while they’re there unwillingly at first, I’ve made the places interesting enough, sometimes even magical, so that they can see good in their new part of the universe, as well as bad.

 

If you are already a fan of the world of the Class 5 series, I hope you love DARK MINDS, and if you haven’t tried the series yet, I hope you’ll consider giving it a go. If action, adventure, and romance appeal, you won’t be sorry you did.

 

— Michelle Diener

 

Other Books in the Series

Dark Deeds (Class 5, #2)Dark Deeds
(Class 5 #2)
by Michelle Diener
Adult Sci-Fi
ebook, 340 Pages
January 4th 2016

 

Far from home . . .

 

Fiona Russell has been snatched from Earth, imprisoned and used as slave labor, but nothing about her abduction makes sense. When she’s rescued by the Grih, she realizes there’s a much bigger game in play than she could ever have imagined, and she’s right in the middle of it.

 

Far from safe . . .

 

Battleship captain Hal Vakeri is chasing down pirates when he stumbles across a woman abducted from Earth. She’s the second one the Grih have found in two months, and her presence is potentially explosive in the Grih’s ongoing negotiations with their enemies, the Tecran. The Tecran and the Grih are on the cusp of war, and Fiona might just tip the balance.

 

Far from done . . .

 

Fiona has had to bide her time while she’s been a prisoner, pretending to be less than she is, but when the chance comes for her to forge her own destiny in this new world she grabs it with both hands. After all, actions speak louder than words.

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Dark HorseDark Horse
(Class 5 #1)
by Michelle Diener
Adult Sci-Fi
ebook, 381 Pages
June 15th 2015

 

Some secrets carry the weight of the world.

Rose McKenzie may be far from Earth with no way back, but she’s made a powerful ally–a fellow prisoner with whom she’s formed a strong bond. Sazo’s an artificial intelligence. He’s saved her from captivity and torture, but he’s also put her in the middle of a conflict, leaving Rose with her loyalties divided.

Captain Dav Jallan doesn’t know why he and his crew have stumbled across an almost legendary Class 5 battleship, but he’s not going to complain. The only problem is, all its crew are dead, all except for one strange, new alien being.

She calls herself Rose. She seems small and harmless, but less and less about her story is adding up, and Dav has a bad feeling his crew, and maybe even the four planets, are in jeopardy. The Class 5’s owners, the Tecran, look set to start a war to get it back and Dav suspects Rose isn’t the only alien being who survived what happened on the Class 5. And whatever else is out there is playing its own games.

In this race for the truth, he’s going to have to go against his leaders and trust the dark horse.

Michelle Diener writes historical fiction, fantasy and science fiction. Having worked in publishing and IT, she’s now very happy crafting new worlds and interesting characters and wondering which part of the world she can travel to next.

 

Michelle was born in London, grew up in South Africa and currently lives in Australia with her husband and two children.

When she’s not writing, or driving her kids from activity to activity, you can find her blogging at Magical Musings. or online at Twitter, at Google+ and Facebook.

Release Celebration Giveaway

$25 Amazon eGift Card
Four ebook sets of Dark Horse, Dark Deeds, and Dark Minds
Open internationally
Ends July 31st

Review: Imbeciles

Book Reviews, History | Posted by Shannon
Jun 06 2016

See if you can follow this chain of logic. Human defects – mental, physical, and moral – are carried through heredity. In order to eliminate these defects from the human race, the genes that cause them must be eliminated from the gene pool. In order to eliminate such bad genes, the carriers of those genes – that is, people – must be eliminated from the gene pool. To put it simply, the defective must not reproduce.

There are three ways to ensure that the defective do not pass on their genes and so continue to drag down humanity with the unfit. The first is to segregate them in institutions where they will not have the opportunity to reproduce. The second is to sterilize them. The third is wholesale slaughter. Which door do you choose to enter a brave, new world?

Eugenicists chose door number two, mass, forced sterilization of people deemed unfit by the powers that be.

All this sounds like science fiction, but in sad truth, it’s history – American history. In Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck, Adam Cohen tells the nearly-forgotten story of eugenics in America. He focuses his account on the Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell, which challenged Virginia’s eugenic sterilization law. 

Cohen tells the story of eugenics through Buck v. Bell, and he tells the story of Buck v. Bell through its major figures. Each chapter of the book is named after one of them: Carrie Buck, the victim; Dr. Albert Priddy, superintendent of Virginia’s Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded; Harry Laughlin, head of the Eugenics Record Office and leading advocate of eugenic sterilization; Aubrey Strode, the lawyer who wrote Virginia’s eugenic sterilization law and defended it up to the Supreme Court; and Oliver Wendell Holmes, the famed Supreme Court justice who coined the epigram from which the book’s title is taken: “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

This book is structured almost like a series of biographical essays, as the author reaches back into the life-stories of the players in Buck v. Bell and tries to define their motivations. The great strength of this structure is that it makes the book accessible, easy to read, and focused on the individual, human side of the drama. As a way of relating the history of American eugenics, it works surprisingly well, at least in the earlier chapters. The careers of prominent eugenicists like Albert Priddy and Harry Laughlin dovetail nicely with the story of eugenics in America.

The chapter devoted to the lawyer Aubrey Strode is, in this respect, more uneven. Much of it is relevant to the book’s topic, but the author wanders on side trails that are not. It is even worse with Oliver Wendell Holmes. The author is clearly fascinated with Holmes’ background as a Boston Brahmin and whether or not he can be rightly regarded as a liberal judge. No doubt some readers will be as well. But these things, which take up page after page of Imbeciles, have nothing to do with eugenics.

Indeed, it is difficult to justify Holmes’ inclusion in the book purely on the book’s proclaimed subjects. Holmes’ life crossed the eugenics movement in no significant way until Buck v. Bell, and even in Buck v. Bell, his importance is minimal. True, he wrote the majority opinion and made it clever, sharply expressed, and cruel. But although he expressed the Court’s decision, there is no reason to believe he had any special role in making it. The author speculates on how he may have influenced his fellow judges, but there is no evidence that he actually did. The Supreme Court decision in Buck v. Bell was 8-1. Oliver Wendell Holmes was just another vote in an overwhelming majority.

Although Imbeciles lost focus in evaluating the life and career of Oliver Wendell Holmes, it remains a highly informative book on a fascinating, neglected piece of American history. It is also skillfully written, being lucid and articulate without being showy. The information is, moreover, well-chosen and well-presented, and the sources are varied and reliable. I highly recommend Imbeciles to all lovers of history.

Excerpt: The Gladiator and the Guard

Literature | Posted by Shannon
May 23 2016
An Excerpt From

 

The Gladiator and the Guard

 

written by Annie Douglass Lima

 

cover art by Jack Lin

 

Bensin had been nervous all day. Not just because he was scheduled to fight the Yellows that afternoon. Not just because Ninety-Nine was scheduled to fight too, possibly at the same time. Not just because Gile had decided to do something different this weekend and give the audience a little extra excitement.

The “something different” was definitely worth being nervous about, though. Six separate martial arts were being featured today. A total of twenty-four glads from the two arenas would be fighting, each using his personal favorite weapon or style of unarmed combat. Members of the audience would be chosen to draw numbers, which would determine the order in which each glad would join the melee. Every five minutes, a new glad would be picked from each side, and they would fight as long as they could. When one was disarmed or too badly wounded to continue, he would retreat, but the victor would stay and keep fighting whatever other opponents were still out there. Depending on who was picked when, and how the battle was going when they were brought in, it was a good guess that things would be pretty uneven for a lot of people a lot of the time.

All of that made Bensin anxious, but he had another worry as well. This would be his first battle out on the sand since his new resolution. He still hadn’t figured out if or how he could possibly be the kind of person he had chosen to be when he was fighting. Would he be able to disarm an opponent, or possibly multiple opponents, without injuring them? Would it mean he had to let someone else beat him? Might it mean that he would end up injured, himself — or perhaps even killed?

That’s going to happen eventually, he reminded himself as he jogged on the treadmill. Won’t it be best to die in a way that involves standing up for who I am and what I believe is right, and not letting the arena force me into violence?

But Bensin still wasn’t quite sure about that. I can just wait and see how it goes. I don’t have to make the decision now.

But he knew that wouldn’t work. There wouldn’t be time to stop and think about it in the middle of a battle. He had to make up his mind beforehand and then stick to it. What’s the point in deciding I’m going to be a certain way if I don’t keep it up when things get hard? But how exactly could a person not be violent when he was fighting for his life?

 

Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is just one victory away from freedom. But after he is accused of a crime he didn’t commit, he is condemned to the violent life and early death of a gladiator. While his loved ones seek desperately for a way to rescue him, Bensin struggles to stay alive and forge an identity in an environment designed to strip it from him. When he infuriates the authorities with his choices, he knows he is running out of time. Can he stand against the cruelty of the arena system and seize his freedom before that system crushes him?

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Annie Douglass Lima spent most of her childhood in Kenya and later graduated from Biola University in Southern California. She and her husband Floyd currently live in Taiwan, where she teaches fifth grade at Morrison Academy. She has been writing poetry, short stories, and novels since her childhood, and to date has published twelve books (two YA action and adventure novels, four fantasies, a puppet script, and five anthologies of her students’ poetry). Besides writing, her hobbies include reading (especially fantasy and science fiction), scrapbooking, and international travel.

 

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Good Friday

Literature, Religion | Posted by Shannon
Mar 25 2016

A Good Friday Excerpt of
Orthodoxy
by G. K. Chesterton

The grinding power of the plain words of the Gospel story is like the power of mill-stones; and those who can read them simply enough will feel as if rocks had been rolled upon them. Criticism is only words about words; and of what use are words about such words as these? What is the use of word-painting about the dark garden filled suddenly with torchlight and furious faces? ‘Are you come out with swords and staves as against a robber? All day I sat in your temple teaching, and you took me not.’ Can anything be added to the massive and gathered restraint of that irony; like a great wave lifted to the sky and refusing to fall? ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me but weep for yourselves and for your children.’ As the High Priest asked what further need he had of witnesses, we might well ask what further need we have of words. Peter in a panic repudiated him: ‘and immediately the cock crew; and Jesus looked upon Peter, and Peter went out and wept bitterly.’ Has anyone any further remarks to offer. Just before the murder he prayed for all the murderous race of men, saying, ‘They know not what they do’; is there anything to say to that, except that we know as little what we say? Is there any need to repeat and spin out the story of how the tragedy trailed up the Via Dolorosa and how they threw him in haphazard with two thieves in one of the ordinary batches of execution; and how in all that horror and howling wilderness of desertion one voice spoke in homage, a startling voice from the very last place where it was looked for, the gibbet of the criminal; and he said to that nameless ruffian, ‘This night shalt thou be with me in Paradise’? Is there anything to put after that but a full stop? Or is anyone prepared to answer adequately that farewell gesture to all flesh which created for his Mother a new Son? …

The mob went along with the Sadducees and the Pharisees, the philosophers and the moralists. It went along with the imperial magistrates and the sacred priests, the scribes and the soldiers, that the one universal human spirit might suffer a universal condemnation; that there might be one deep, unanimous chorus of approval and harmony when Man was rejected of men.

There were solitudes beyond where none shall follow. There were secrets in the inmost and invisible part of that drama that have no symbol in speech; or in any severance of a man from men. Nor is it easy for any words less stark and single-minded than those of the naked narrative even to hint at the horror of exaltation that lifted itself above the hill. Endless expositions have not come to the end of it, or even to the beginning. And if there be any sound that can produce a silence, we may surely be silent about the end and the extremity; when a cry was driven out of that darkness in words dreadfully distinct and dreadfully unintelligible, which man shall never understand in all the eternity they have purchased for him; and for one annihilating instant an abyss that is not for our thoughts had opened even in the unity of the absolute; and God had been forsaken of God.